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Tatsumi Fujinami


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I haven't had the time to get into this so far, but I actually think Fujinami is a legitimate number one contender. Probably the strongest argument against him is that he was merely okay-to-good for most of the 90's rather than great. But you could say the exact same thing about Flair and no one would discount him as a top pick. Childs made many of the points I would make in the Choshu thread, but they the following things are worth repeating/mentioning here:


1. Fujinami was very likely the best junior heavyweight in the world in the last 70s/early 80s, and then quickly transitioning into being one of the top heavyweights in the world as soon as he "moved up."


2. He was an excellent tag team worker, both in straight tags and elimination tags which required a different sort of psychology.


3. Really a great mat worker, but also underrated highspots, great bleeder, good selling, snug worker, et. Mechanically few were better, and it's notable that he could work really fluid exchanges, or more rugged, grisly segments at very high levels.


4. Good-to-great matches against a wide variety of opponents spanning five different decades.


I guess you could criticize him for not having the volume of great singles matches you'd hope for, but it's not like his best singles matches weren't tremendous. At bare minimum he's my pick for the best Japanese worker of the 80's, which will almost certainly get him into my top ten

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  • 2 weeks later...

I haven't had the time to get into this so far, but I actually think Fujinami is a legitimate number one contender. Probably the strongest argument against him is that he was merely okay-to-good for most of the 90's rather than great. But you could say the exact same thing about Flair and no one would discount him as a top pick.


I like Fujinami a ton, but I don't think comparing Flair and Fujinami in the 90s is a solid comparison. Flair slipped to the point that he wasn't in the best in the world conversation anymore after the middle of 1990, but I don't think you could say he dropped out of the top ten in the U.S. until probably 1995 or 1996. As for Fujinami, I don't know that he had even 10 good matches in the 1990s, and I definitely don't think he even had a year where he was a top 30 guy in Japan. He may have been a part of a few good tags in isolation, but it's rare.


As for Fujinami's ranking in his country in the 90s, you'd have the AJ 4, but also Fuchi and Kikuchi. Then in New Japan you have Hashimoto, Hase, Muto, Chono, Liger, Otani, Kanemoto ... all the way down to where I'm not even sure he beats Shiro Koshinaka or Kazuo Yamazaki. Maybe not even Sasaki, Tenzan or Kojima. Add in the shoot style workers and the wrestlers in MPro, and even the veterans who peaked in the same generation he did like Choshu and Tenryu (although Tenryu peaked again). The FMW guys probably come down to style preference, but the best of the garbage style certainly peaked higher than anything Fujinami did.


I don't say all of this to disparage Fujinami because I could see myself voting him in the top five and that's just based on watching 1980-1981 and using that as a predictor for how I imagine the rest of his decade will go. I suspect he'll be comfortably there after I finish up 80s New Japan. Maybe even number one, since I'm not as gung-ho on guys having to contribute something after their prime as many people. But he slipped far more after 1989 than Flair did, with nothing really to hang his hat on except for that one off with Nishimura in MUGA in 2006.

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I can't really reply to that in the sort of detail I would like to because I have watched very little 90's Fujinami in recent years. Having said that I would be stunned if he didn't have ten good matches throughout the entire decade. It's certainly possible, but that would be among the most mind blowing declines in the history of wrestling.


The bigger point may be true, but I also feel like it's deceptive. The reality is that wrestling was much better/deeper in quality in Japan during the 90's than it was in the U.S. Flair might have been one of the thirty best wrestlers in Japan in 90 and 92, but I don't know that he would have been for any other year that decade. I also don't know that Flair was a top ten worker in the U.S. in any year after 90. 92 is possible, but that's the year of Dangerous Alliance in WCW and there are a lot of guys there I really love. I don't see it in 93 or 94. 95 was one of the worst in ring years in U.S. wrestling history and I still don't know if he makes a top ten that year. Meanwhile in Japan that whole period is a highpoint for NJPW juniors, AJPW heavies, emerging indies, Joshi, shootstyle, et.


I am willing to concede that Flair's run of quality that we can document with a solid amount of tape is 82-94. Fujinami's is 77 or 78-89. Basically the same length of time.

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Agreed that Japanese wrestling was way ahead of U.S. wrestling by that point, which is why I graded on a curve of top 10 versus top 30. There were also far more promotions running monthly shows that were usually good for at least a five year period if not longer. We can talk about Flair in the 90s and how he compares to his peers in each year in the Flair thread if it interests you, but just to bring this back to Fujinami and what I think is more relevant regarding his career, in 1980-1981 I think he is pretty easily the best mat worker out there, and I've watched almost all of the praised Joint Promotions stuff in the same time period. His role in that time taking on all comers - some guys I'd never heard of before or since - is really incredible, and I haven't even gotten to the peak of his heavyweight run yet. The guy was a phenomenal talent and was pulling off athletic spots that I think would still pop a crowd today that I wish someone would steal. The first one that comes to mind is doing the criss-cross off the Irish whip and catching the guy while he's running in a bodyscissors from an upside down position, but there are plenty more spots like that. If his whole decade is full of matches that good, even if he deviates from that specific match type, he can spend the 90s picking his nose for all I care (not that I think Fujinami was *that* bad in the 90s ... it was more that he was just there). He's still a GOAT contender.

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I think what will hurt Fujinami in the eyes of some is that he doesn't have the number of high end heavyweight singles matches you ideally want out of a GOATC. I think the Choshu feud is excellent, and then there is the Maeda match, and there are other things there as well (including the randomly awesome Nishimura match you noted above). But in large part because of how he was booked and the nature of his situation (i.e. not a traveling champion) he doesn't have the deep number of singles matches v. a wide variety of opponents.


On the flipside he was an excellent tag team worker, a brilliant junior ace, and really stands out from the pack in the elimination/gauntlet matches NJPW loved to run during the 80's. It's hard to imagine a guy doing more in his situation than Fujinami did.

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I'll just say that I'm roughly at the same point in my 80s NJPW viewing as Charles, and Fujinami absolutely has a shot at my top 10, possibly even top 5. I said this by the time I hit September 1980.


Fujinami can work scientifically, as a highflyer, he can brawl, he can work in bombfests. I think in just a few short matches, he's shown all of that, which is pretty remarkable. Surely a contender for best worker anywhere in the world for 1980.

I really liked his match with Chavo (5/9/80) and with Isamu Teranishi (10/8/81)


The only thing I see potentially hurting him vs. Flair and Jumbo is that I'm a big character guy and while Flair and Jumbo have that in spades, Fujinami has been kind of bland so far in that department.


Other than that, he has a quality that I'm pretty much demanding from the top tier, which is: ability to work a variety of styles against a variety of different opponents.

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I like Fujinami, I really do but he is someone that gets brought up as #1 contenders and top five by loads of individuals here and I see no shot of him being that high on my ballot. He was great in 1980 and 1981 but I think Dylan touching on the singles feud is spot on. When you get to the tip top of my ballot, there is that one feud that I would like to see to catapult people over the top. Multiple type feuds are a plus. Kawada has it with Misawa and vice versa. Kobashi has it with Misawa and Hansen. Jumbo and Tenryu have it with each other. Flair vs. Steamboat and Funk. Lawler with Dundee. All of those I would place above the Choshu vs. Fujinami matches and feud overall. Was the Choshu vs. Fujinami matches very good stuff. Absolutely, although I am probably more down on it than others but I didn't watch that series of matches feeling like I was seeing an all timer type feud.


The 90's are a rough patch for Fujinami which everyone pretty much universally agrees. Therefore, I am left hanging my hat on the 80's run and while it is certainly enough to propel him to the top half of my ballot, it leads me fairly cold in other parts for a top 10 GOAT contender.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've been watching 1980 Fujinami in the past few days. I've been most impressed with his range. He worked a lucharesuish tag match with Hoshino against Dynamite and Keirn, a gritty mat contest with Keirn in singles, and worked underneath selling and bleeding in a singles against Dynamite all in the same year. He had a pretty fantastic 1980. He can sell, bump, paces a match very well, can work fast or slow, builds great sympathy from the audience, great on the mat, good offense, and can be hard hitting if he wants to be. Great wrestler.

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Fantastic technician. I watched some matches he had with Ryuma Go from the 70s recently that were just awesome. I also think he stood out as the best guy in the 5-on-5 Gauntlet match from 84. The first time I saw Fujinami I didn't understand the praise but the more I see him the more I like him. Top 20 contender for me at this point.

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Here are the thoughts of random singles matches that made the NJ set. I picked the comment that I thought put the match in the best light.


Tatsumi Fujinami vs Vader

CHILDS: Fujinami always worked monsters well, and this was one of the best examples. He spent most of the match bumping around and making Vader's offense look great, but every few minutes, he delivered a flurry of hit-and-run offense that kept him credible. Vader did a good job as well, selling the damage from Fujinami's leg kicks and tossing in a few theatrical bumps. Very good ending that played off Fujinami's ability to outmaneuver the unbeatable monster. This is a slam-dunk nomination.


Vader vs. Fujinami

CHILDS: I was almost looking for reasons not to nominate this, because we already have two no-doubters from their series. But fuck, it was just too good. Vader gave Fujiami a terrible beating, but Fujinami showed so much fire and resourcefulness as he kept finding ways to counter out of trouble and pile up damage on Vader's arm (which was sort of the big man's Achilles heel in NJ booking.) In a great sequence near the end, Fujinami destroyed Vader's arm on several metal posts and rolled him into the ring for an armbar that easily could have ended it. But then, in a twist on their previous matches, Vader battled through the submission to set up his own finishing run. It really came across as two epic forces throwing everything they had at one another before a huge, fired up crowd. I can't see leaving it off.

New Japan Classics 340
Tatsumi Fujinami vs Vader
WILL: After the initial flurry by Fujinami where Vader ends up outside, the big guy has to be frustrated that he has not been able to dominate him. I mark out as Vader completely dismantles fujinami's back with the press lam, bosy slam, etc. and even just hammering his back with the oven mitts. He tops it off with ramming Fujinami's back into the ringpost and body slamming him on the floor. Sweet. After getting poounded, Fujinami goes with the chop=down-the-tree strategy and gets VAder on the ground. Vader's dissection of the back keeps the match moving I particularly loved the ab stretch into Samoan drop that setup a nearfall. The ending came out of nowhere but after all the work Vader did on Fujinami's back, how ironic he got pinned with a backslide? I loved this match, maybe even more than the first match. this is clearly heads above the 2nd match. Strong nomination.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Isamu Teranishi
PHIL SCHNEIDER: I really liked this a lot, the interpromotional aspect of it added a lot of fire. This was intense from the start and they were pounding the shit out each other, with nasty headbutts, and punches. Teranishi just unloads on Fujinami at one point with some Necro looking rights and lefts. Finish was great too, this should go on a set.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Ron Starr
CHILDS: Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Ron Starr (WWF Junior Title) - More excellent stuff from the 1980s junior scene. They started with some crisp matwork, and Starr gradually started mixing in some heelish touches -- a kick on the break here, a hair pull there. Eventually, he went full heel, knocking Fujinami out of the ring several times and nailing him on the apron every time he tried to climb back. Starr employed fairly simple offense that all looked tight and hurty. Of course, Fujinami eventually rallied, and the closing back and forth was very heated. I'm loving this Fujinami invitational approach to the junior belt. He just worked great match after great match.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Killer Khan (11/3/83)
WILL: Khan is showing alot of energy here but I think that bothers me about him in almost any match is that he is so awkward in his movement. His gutbuster (?) wasn't blown but it looked wierd. Then he does some simple stuff that I mark out for like rubbing his forearms over Fujinami's head. The first few minutes are all Khan abusing Fujinami so Fujinami bails and regroups outside. Fujinami takes control and I really wasn't enjoying his offense. However, there was one spot to look out for. Fujinami is trying to hook on a Sharpshooter but he can't turn Khan over... so he drops down and hooks him in a Figure 4 with ease because he already has the legs in position. One of themes that is quietly played on is Fujinami working on Khan's legs throughout the match. He'll do something like kick the leg and then they will go to another segment. Later on, he hooks on the Figure 4. After Khan controls for awhile, Fujinami goes to the leg again. He then tries to embarass Khan by taking him out with the top rope knee drop. Khan fights back and hits his 2nd rope knee drop for a close two. Soon after, Khan goes up to the top rope but is superplexed off by Fujinami. The match ends in a countout but there was plenty of fun stuff here to move it forward.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Tony Rocco (WWF Junior Title) (9/11/80)
WILL: You get the mandatory groundwork to start off. Fujinami establishes an armbar and thehy work in and out of the armbar including some nice pinning sequences and a spot where both men run the ropes, lock arms, fall to the ground and Fujinami clinches the armbar again. While Fujinami controlled the first part of the match, Rocco takes over in the 2nd half with some decent offense. We also get some nice exchanges and some unexpected counters. At one point, it looks like Rocco was trying to do a Flair flip but couldn't keep the flip out of the corner. Before I could type in blown spot, Fujinami dropkicks him out of the ring. Nice. The end run is really great with both guys going all out before Fujinami catches Rocco with a rollup. Easy nomination.
Hulk Hogan vs. Tatsumi Fujinami (2/5/85)
WILL: The old “Hogan works hard in Japan†theory is in place here. Well, Hogan is working hard and he quickly takes control early on and Fujinami seems frustrated in not being able to gain any sort of advantage. Eventually he trips Hogan up and applies the sharpshooter. This results in Hogan getting a rope break and taking a breather. So far, so good. It looked like Hogan had it won with the Axe Bomber but Fujinami was able to put his foot on the ropes. I thought the match was done. After a tumble outside, Fujinami posts Hogan and he starts bleeding. Fujinami takes control inside and is pounding on the cut. Great ending as the ref tries to separate Fujinami fron Hogan and right after Fujinami pushes the ref away, he gets nailed with a lariat for the three count. Really good stuff from both guys here. Hogan gave Fujinami plenty and even allowed himself to be dominated later on before putting the match away. Thumbs up from me. NJ Classics 183


Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Grappler

WILL: Just like the Lawler match, Fujinami's arm work was solid. I thought the Lawlwer match was better giving each guy control with better transitions. Like the Lawler match, Fujinami switches his focus tothe leg but I thought they did a better job of logically making the switch where here, it seems like Fujinami got bored and just mixed it up. They did a great job once they went to the leg with Grappler selling, missing the knee off the top to add insult to the injury, and Fujinami locking in the Sharpshooter. Grappler's offense was solid but Phil is right... that Fujinami backbreaker looked vicious. I liked the Lawler match more but this had more than enough going for it for a nomination.



Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Dick Murdoch (7/9/82 TV)

WILL: Fuck, Fujinami dropkicking Dick before the match starting and Dick respinding with punches to the face a couple of minutes later is pretty sweet. Of course, Dick works the arm and does some cool shit inbetween holds (like punching Fujinami in the face). When Fujinami takes over, it is still the Dick Murdoch show and you pay more attenton to Dick, looking for that next punch to the face. After the big dive outside, this was all action, with Fujinami trying to exploit the cut and Murdoch breaking out his repertoire of big moves. Even though I don't like the countout, the brainbuster on the floor to end it puts an exclamation point on the match. Very solid nomination.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Dick Murdoch
WILL: This started off with Murdoch and Fujinami wailing away at each other and had so much promise. The match kind of whithers away for the first few minutes but then they go outside and it gets real interesting real fast. After they get back in the ring, it moves at a much faster pace with both guys going at it. I didn’t even mind the countout ending as Murdoch tries a suplex on the floor but Fujinami escapes and rams him into the ringpost, rolls inside and wins the match. This moves forward. NJ Classics 133
Tatsumi Fujinami vs Kengo Kimura (1/2/87 TV)
CHILDS: I sat on my couch in shock at how awesome this was. Kimura came out with his fist taped and potatoed his old partner off the pre-match handshake. He proceeded to be a total dick, hitting on the break, stomping Fujinami every time he tried to get up, etc. I don't know what made him so angry at the world, but hey, no complaints. Fujinami unleashed some pretty sweet retribution, busting Kimura open on the outside and showing that he had counters for most of the upstart's actual wrestling moves. But then Kimura upped the ante with some vicious chair shots. I won't describe the whole ending, but this was a great, heated feud starter and really, a game changer for Kimura. Slam dunk nomination.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs Kengo Kimura
CHILDS: Not as heated as their previous match. They worked this more like Fujinami's matches with Choshu from 1983, with lots of intense matwork broken up by spurts of violence. It was still really good. I dug a sequence in which Kimura kicked Fujinami off the top rope to the floor and then almost knocked him out with a flurry of punches to the body. I also liked Fujinami's relentlessness in going after various submissions at the end. The only real disappointment was the respectful postmatch handshake, which signaled the end of a feud that seemed to have a lot more legs. Definite nomination nonetheless.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Chavo Guerrero
PHIL SCHNEIDER: Lots of good stuff here. These two were almost perfectly matched in size, speed, technical ability, etc. I liked how they gradually upped the pace and mixed in more brawling as the match moved along. The crowd went from respectful to hot, just like the action. Easy thumbs up from me.
Kengo Kimura vs. Tatsumi Fujinami (NWA International Junior Title) (9/25/80)
WILL: Off the bat, I thought Kimura botched an arm drag attempt but a quick rewind shows that it looked like he made a mistake and Fujinami capitalized on it. In fact, there were several points where I had to rewind the footage to catch something I didn't pick up on in my initial viewing. Just some beautiful sequences early on. One sequence has Kimura breaking a knuckle lock, getting his leg swept and kicks Fujinami in the face all in about a second. What started off as a nice technical match gets a little testy as Kimura and Fujinami just start kicking each other and later, Kimura slaps Fujinami in the face. They play off the earlier theme of Kimura unable to capitalize as he tries to hip toss Fujinami out of the corner but Tatsumi holds the ropes and slips out of Kimura's grip. I also like that they go back to earlier sequences such as Kimura controlling a head scissors after Fujinami had worked him over with one earlier in the match. It gets a little sloppy towards the end but Kimurra drops Fujinami with an UGLY piledriver. In the end, both guys hit some big moves and get nice and bloodied. The match is stopped when neither man can get up after a ten count but this was a SLAM DUNK nomination.



Jerry Lawler vs. Tatsumi Fujinami
PHIL SCHNEIDER: Man do I love this match. Only downside is a deadish crowd, but otherwise this is two of the best of all time bringing it. Lawler breaks out a ton of offense here, enzigiri, multiple diving fistdrops, piledriver, side suplex, calf branding, plus awesome Lawler punches and cheapshots. No chain or fire, but he does break a Fujinami sleeper with a back kick low blow. Awesome leg selling by Lawler too. Really a hidden gem, no one talks about.
Akira Maeda vs. Tatsumi Fujinami (6/12/86 TV)
CHILDS: Classic match and one that has to be on the set. I hadn't watched it for several years but it holds up incredibly well because of the intensity and violence of the exchanges throughout. And it was the rare case where a screwed up finish made the match more indelible instead of ruining it.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Steve Keirn (NWA International Junior Title) (2/1/80)
WILL: Early on, Keirn controls the arm but after a quick roll-up, Keirn goes outside to regroup. When he gets back on control, he works on the leg of Fujinami to keep him grounded to prevent anymore flash pins. I am really enjoying the New Japan ground game. Not just in this match but from what I have seen so far in the company. Some of the matches might not have the excitement of All Japan but it seems more real, if that makes sense. The end run picked the pace up with Keirn attacking Fujinami and punishing him with a variety of attacks. However, the crowd really isn’t responding to these guys. Keirn busts Fujinami open on the ring post after a really sweet pin attempt. Fujinami tries to fight back but can’t gather the strength to do one of his patented outside dives. He battles with Keirn who keeps punching the cut past the referee’s 5-count and gets disqualified in the first fall.
Keirn starts the 2nd fall abusing Fujinami with a variety of moves, casually pinning him, knowing the match is I nthe bag. However, Fujinami fights back and hits a dropkick. He tries another and Keirn dodges it and sets Fujinami up for a bodyslam but he pops up over Keirn and surprises him with a German Suplex pin. I know this match up will pop up again on the Classics so I want to see how the matches all play out but I have no problem nominating this.The crowd hurts it a little but both guys were great in this.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Hiro Hamaguchi
CHILDS: They spent much of the match demonstrating how evenly matched they were on the mat. This stayed pretty interesting as they worked hard in the holds. They traded their higher-impact stuff in the build to the finish, producing several nearfalls. Nothing remarkable about it -- just a good, hard wrestling match between two well-matched, outstanding workers. I'll take that any day, so it goes on the block.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Dynamite Kid (WWF Junior Title) (2/5/80)
WILL: Fujinami is phenomenal. In between the two Keirn matches, he fits time into his schedule to have this gem of a match. DK brings the high impact offense. He lays in the nice headbutts and European uppercuts. At two different points, DK tries to apply an Octopus hold and Fujinami evades the move both times. After both guys reset after tumbling out of the ring, DK gets caught in a leg scissors so he goes after the cut that Fujinami received in the Keirn match. After escaping the scissors, DK unloads with punches, headbutts and a nice kick to the head to get the blood flowing. After Fujinami attempts a Dragon Suplex, DK gives him a headbutt while Fujinami was behind him. It looked cool to me. The rest of the match has DK attacking the cut with Fujinami trying to escape pins or fight back. At one point, Fujinami gets a gut wrench into a pin and as he is standing up, DK kicks him in the head while lying on his back. This allows DK to finally hook in the Octopus hold. Shortly after, DK hits the flying headbutt and Fujinami has to be done but he kicks out. After a few more minutes, including a missed headbutt by DK, Fujinami pins DK with the same pin that put Keirn away in the 2/8 match. Is there a name for that pinning combo?
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  • 3 months later...

Fujinami definitely takes a huge step down in the 90s, I was hoping to find some post-80s recommendations here to help bolster his case. Instead I looked back through my notes to see if any of his 90s work stood out to me. Here are 10 matches that I would rate at least good with a few being great. There isn't much singles work. I don't think Fujinami was actively bad in the 90s. At least not the first half. He just dropped from a great worker to a solid hand that could be counted on to hold things together but was only as good as his opponent.


1. Vader vs Tatsumi Fujinami NJPW G1 Climax 8.7.91


2. Masa Chono & Hiroshi Hase vs Tatsumi Fujinami & Shiro Koshinaka NJPW 2.4.92


3. Steiners vs Tatsumi Fujinami & Takayuki Iizuka WCW War Games 5.17.92


4. Genichiro Tenryu, Takashi Ishikawa, Ricky Fuyuki, Tatsumi Kitahara & Ashura Hara vs Riki Choshu, Tatsumi Fujinami, Osamu Kido, Hiroshi Hase & Takashi Iizuka 5 on 5 NJPW 2.16.93


5. Riki Choshu & Tatsumi Fujinami vs Genichiro Tenryu & Takashi Ishikawa NJPW 3.23.93


6. Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara vs Tatsumi Fujinami & Masa Chono NJPW 7.14.93


7. Genichiro Tenryu, Takashi Ishikawa & Ashura Hara vs Shinya Hashimoto, Masa Chono & Tatsumi Fujinami NJPW 8.2.93


8. Tatsumi Fujinami & Jushin Liger vs Genichiro Tenryu & Koki Kitahara NJPW 8.3.93


9. Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara vs Tatsumi Fujinami & Osamu Kido WAR 10.11.93


10. Genichiro Tenryu vs Tatsumi Fujinami NJPW 4.29.96

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Is Fujinami's lack of great matches in the 90s due to him falling off in ability or a lack of opportunities? Having just read all the 93 Observers, I remember Dave writing about Fujinami and talking about how he was kind of stuck in limbo because New Japan was building it's new generation of stars with Chono, Mutoh & Hashimoto and it didn't make sense for him to go over any of them and they didn't want to just make Fujinami a jobber for those guys either. This might account for his lack of great singles matches during the decade as much as him falling off in ability.

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Is Fujinami's lack of great matches in the 90s due to him falling off in ability or a lack of opportunities? Having just read all the 93 Observers, I remember Dave writing about Fujinami and talking about how he was kind of stuck in limbo because New Japan was building it's new generation of stars with Chono, Mutoh & Hashimoto and it didn't make sense for him to go over any of them and they didn't want to just make Fujinami a jobber for those guys either. This might account for his lack of great singles matches during the decade as much as him falling off in ability.


He suffered a huge injury in 89, he was out for a couple of months and was never the same after that.

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